Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533
Mr. Barry is unmarried, lives in Bath, and spends much of his time engaged in business. His doctor has recommended he take more exercise, which is why he bought Black Auster. The master keeps his horse in a rented stable nearby and hires a groom, Filcher, to care for him. Though the owner does not know much about horses, he treats Black Auster well and life would have been good and easy for the horse if it were not for circumstances about which his master was unaware.
Barry had ordered that his horse be fed the finest food: hay with plenty of oats and crushed beans, with bran or rye grass as the groom sees fit. Black Auster heard the order being given, so he knows what he should be eating. For several days everything goes well. Filcher was a former hotel ostler, so he knows how to care properly for a horse. The stall is light and airy, and the horse is groomed gently and thoroughly each day. In addition to his grooming duties, Filcher and his wife are in the business of growing vegetables to sell at the market, and they fatten poultry and rabbits for sale.
Soon the horse realizes that he is being given very few oats, probably only a quarter of what he should be getting each day. After a week or two, this lack of nutritious food begins to affect Black Auster’s strength and energy. He is unable to complain, of course, and the shortage of nutritious food begins to show. The horse is surprised his master has not noticed anything, but again, he is inexperienced with horses and does not recognize the problem.
One of Barry’s friends notices that Black Auster does not look as healthy as when the man first got him. Barry tells him he has noticed the horse is lacking energy but his groom tells him that is typical for a horse in the fall. The other man says that is a foolish notion and besides, it is only August. He asks what the horse has been eating; when Barry tells him, the man feels the horse’s neck and shoulder and says someone has not been honest in his dealings with Barry. He can tell that someone is robbing the horse of his food.
The master soon learns that early every morning Filcher and his little boy have been coming into the stables and filling a bag with oats; then the man sends the boy home with the bag. One morning, just after the little boy leaves the stable, several policemen walk into the barn holding the boy tightly by the arm. They tell the boy to show them where his father keeps the food for his rabbits. He is frightened but leads them to the corn bin where they discover an empty bag just like the one the boy is carrying.
Filcher is cleaning Black Auster’s feet when the policemen find him, and though the man sputters and tries to deny the accusation, he and his son are taken to be locked up. The boy is released, but Filcher is sentenced to two months in prison.